Virginia: Brain Injuries – a Lawyer’s Sanctions

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Security Nat’l Bank of Sioux City, Iowa, as Conservator for J.M.K., a Minor v. Abbott Laboratories, 2014 WL 3704277 (N.D. Iowa Jul. 28, 2014) conceived a product liability case for alleged permanent brain injury. That opinion is notable for its “outside-the-box sanction” of defense counsel’s deposition discovery misconduct.

The trial judge in Security Nat’l v. Abbott Labs raised the issue of sanctions sua sponte for defense counsel’s “serious pattern of obstructive conduct”. Id. at *2. “[T]he deposition transcripts were littered with…meritless objections made by one of the defendant’s lawyers.” Id.

In defending depositions related to this case, [defense] Counsel proliferated hundreds of unnecessary objections and interruptions during the examiner’s questioning. Most of these objections completely lacked merit and often ended up influencing how the witnesses responded to questions. In particular, Counsel engaged in three broad categories of improper conduct. First, Counsel interposed an astounding number of ‘form’ objections, many of which stated no recognized basis for objection. Second, Counsel repeatedly objected and interjected in ways that coached the witness to give a particular answer or to unnecessarily quibble with the examiner. Finally, Counsel excessively interrupted the depositions that Counsel defended, frustrating and delaying the fair examination of witnesses.

Id. at *4. In Virginia, Mr. Waterman has experienced Defendants’ counsel – especially medical malpractice defense counsel – interposing such obstructive objections.

The Court in Security Nat’l v. Abbott Labs imposed the following “out-of-the-box” sanction to defer future obstructive deposition practices:

Counsel must write and produce a training video in which Counsel, or another partner in Counsel’s firm, appears and explains the holding and rationale of this opinion, and provides specific steps lawyers must take to comply with its rationale in future depositions in any federal and state court. The video must specifically address the impropriety of unspecified “form” objections, witness coaching, and excessive interruptions.****The lawyer in the video must state that the video is being produced and distributed pursuant to a federal court’s sanction order regarding a partner in the firm,***Upon completing the video, Counsel must file it with this court, under seal, for my review and approval. If and when I approve the video, Counsel must (1) notify certain lawyers at Counsel’s firm about the video via email and (2) provide those lawyers with access to the video. The lawyers who must receive this notice and access include each lawyer at Counsel’s firm – including its branch offices worldwide – who engages in federal or state litigation or who works in any practice group in which at least two of the lawyers have filed an appearance in any state or federal case in the United States.

Id. at *15. It concluded the “sanctions are appropriate in response to [defense] Counsel’s improper deposition conduct, which impeded, delayed, and frustrated the fair examination of witnesses”. Id. at 16.